So far our American road trip has seen us call in at Seattle, Portland and Chicago. It was rather inevitable that the giant EFW Winnebago would eventually pull in at Washington to seek out the black-and-red of D.C. United. That's because DCU are often credited with being the first club in the MLS to establish a proper fan base. Also, as Director Kyle Sheldon proudly pointed out to EFW this week "We're the most successful team in U.S. Soccer history having won 12 trophies in 14 seasons, including our domestic championship and the MLS cup on four occasions".
DCU can also boast three major supporters groups in La Barra Brava, La Norte and the Screaming Eagles. Each of these groups occupies a different area of the stadium making for quite a sight and plenty of noise on matchdays. The Washington Post captured the magic of the Barra Brava in an excellent article published a couple of years ago. We asked Kim Kolb of the Screaming Eagles to tell us more about their group:
The Screaming Eagles are an original Supporter's Group of DC United. In fact, it predates United by a year, as our founder started the group as soon as MLS teams were announced. We're a non-profit entity that has over 1200 members. The background that started it was more European than the other DC groups, but truth is that the style have both morphed into something between at Euro and South American style. Singing, chanting, group sarcasm, streamers, banners. In the stadium, the Screaming Eagles now takes up three sections of RFK, and sometimes expands into others. The organization and execution of all Screaming Eagles activities is purely voluntary and lots of folks pour in hours of effort each week. Away from the field, the Screaming Eagles are active in a lot of charity work both with DC United and on its own in trying to spread the word and joy of soccer around the area and to help out other worthy causes.
Are the club themselves supportive of the group? In a word: Yes. The team has given the groups a lot of leeway on a lot of things, especially concerning things like stadium rules. They understand that the atmosphere is a benefit to them, and if/when issues arise, they're very willing to work with all three of the major groups (or any other groups of fans) to come to a solution that will work for everyone.
For more info on Kim and the Screaming Eagles you can check out his rather splendid SE Nest Liner Blog. Of particular interest, was the interview he gave to our friends at Pitch Invasion in which SE founder Mat Mathai gives a great insight in the first steps of the Eagles.
So what more is there to DCU!? Well, who better we thought than fan Max Rosenthal to tell us more:
So aside from Barra Brava and the Screaming Eagles, there is a third "group" of supporters? Yes, La Norte is another group that stands "behind" the north goal at RFK. "Behind" because RFK actually no longer has stands directly behind the goal, so they are off to the side. They're another group in the South American tradition that stands, beats drums, waves flags, and sings for 90 minutes. They're significantly smaller than the Barra or the Eagles, but they're a great group with a lot of passion.
Is the RFK stadium ideal for soccer matches? RFK really isn't ideal for anything, since it's a) ancient and crumbling, b) designed as a multisport stadium, and c) costs the club a fortune to rent and use. But, financial issues aside, it's a good home for United. What's left of the lower bowl is a great size for a typical MLS crowd, and the decks above tend to trap in sound and make a great atmosphere. Also, the "Loud Side" sections where the Barra and Eagles stands are mounted on huge rollers that used to move back and forth for football and baseball configurations. That makes them bouncy if jumped on, and the Barra puts that to good use, which is great to take part in or just watch. There's very much a "it's a dump, but it's OUR dump" mentality. But we'd all like a new stadium on the whole.
Is it one of those out of town stadiums? Absolutely not. It's right in DC proper and accessible by the Metro. It's not downtown, but it's most definitely an urban stadium.
What sort of crowds do you attract in terms of numbers? Usually about 17 or 18K, though crowds were down last year. 20K or better isn't uncommon.
Any advance on that report in the Baltimore Sun last year which mentioned a new purpose-built 20,000+ capacity stadium for DC United? Not too familiar with that particular report but the stadium situation is kind of a mess, and no one but the ownership seems to know what's going on. The past two years have seen plans fall apart in both the District and Prince George's County in Maryland, with no Plan C at present that the fans are aware of. For now, United is stuck in RFK, which is obviously making fans nervous. There's significant worry about the possibility of the club being moved to another city, though Will Chang, the owner, says that he doesn't want to relocate.
How does soccer rank in Washington when compared to other sports? Definitely towards the bottom. You have to remember that DC is a four-sport town, so you have the Redskins, Wizards (NBA), Caps (NHL), and Nats (baseball) ahead of us, plus college sports. That having been said, though, United definitely isn't neglected.
How much coverage do you get in the local media? A good amount, actually, United is treated as a truly major league team in DC. The Washington Post has a soccer beat writer in Steven Goff, and there has been regular coverage in the Washington Times (though I think this may have ended now due to budget cuts) and the Washington Examiner, two other smaller local papers. The team also seems to do a lot of stuff on DC 101, one of the local radio stations. Sports talk radio is definitely not very United-friendly, but that's par for the course in the States. On the whole I'd say we're much more on the media radar than most other MLS clubs.
DC United are the most successful club in MLS history right? Yep, United has won four league titles, four Supporter's Shields (the trophy that goes to the club with the best regular-season point total), two US Open Cups, and one each of the CONCACAF Champions' Cup and the Interamerican Cup. United was also the first MLS team to win an international competition. It's a proud record, but the fans are definitely hungry for another title.
We like a beer with our football...sorry soccer here in England. What is the beer of choice in Washington? Ha, there's no standard, though Guinness is a perennial favorite. Tailgates are very much BYOB, so you'll get everything from Bud to Latin American beers to microbrews. And whiskey. Lots of whiskey.
If we came over from England for a match, where would be the best place to meet up with the home fans for a beer and a chat? Lot 8 at RFK is the only place to be for a home game. For away games there are a few bars that United fans tend to congregate, like Molly Malone's in southeast DC and Summer's in Arlington, VA.
Is there a tailgating culture at home games? Yes, a huge one, all of the groups camp out in Lot 8 for hours before every game. It's just hours of amazing food, drinking, kickarounds, tifo and song prep, sports on the TV, etc. The standard advice to people who want to start coming to games with the supporters groups is to come out to the tailgate with a bottle of booze. It works. Even our owner is a regular sight at Lot 8.
Do you have an alliance with fans of any other teams? Not really. There are some clubs with whom fan relations are pretty good, Houston and Toronto come to mind.
Who are your rivals? We hate the Metroscum (New York Red Bulls) above all, which works out for us since they're shit in nearly every possible sense. There's nothing more fun than ruining them again and again and again. There's also tough rivalry with Chicago, who we have an unfortunate habit of losing to in the playoffs. We always want to beat them both in the field and in the stands. LA Galaxy, Columbus, and New England are definitely teams DC fans love to hate, and there is a brewing thing with Seattle based on their arrogance and whining about the location of the US Open Cup final last year.
I don't suppose - given the size of the USA - you have what we would call a local derby or local rivals, so what do you consider to be your biggest match of the coming season? Metroscum away, there's no doubt. There's nothing better than watching their pathetic fan base suffer yet another home defeat, and we usually get to enjoy that every year (we used to refer to Giants Stadium as RFK North). Now they've got their new stadium, Red Bull Arena, which is admittedly gorgeous, and we want to spoil their party with another ass-kicking.
Do you take fans to away matches? Definitely, though the size of the away support depends heavily on the game and also the day, with weekday and Sunday games being less conducive to a road trip. We might see 500 going up to New Jersey, 200 to Columbus or Chicago, and 25-50 to somewhere like LA or Seattle. There are, of course, other DC fans in the stadium, but those are generally the sizes you'd expect for the "away fans" section.
Who is the club mascot? Talon, a big white eagle in a DC jersey.
Are there any off-the-field cheesy shenanigans before, during or after matches such as music after goals, confetti, firing t-shirts into the crowd that sort of thing?
Not really, United really lets the supporters dominate things atmosphere-wise. No cheerleaders, no promotional wackiness, etc. If there's confetti and streamers around, it's coming from the Barra.
Talon the club mascot
Do DC United fans follow other codes of sport in Washington? Absolutely, nearly every other sport you can think of. During the fall, you'll usually find a good number of TVs at the tailgate turned to college football. Lots of United fans are big-time Redskins fans, there's a pretty decent collection of people that follow the the Capitals, Georgetown and Maryland basketball fans, etc. etc. And of course, nearly everyone has a favorite club in another league, especially England, Spain, or the Latin American leagues that a lot of people followed before they moved to the States.
What are your hopes for the coming MLS season? Personally, I don't have too many. I haven't been terribly impressed by our choice of a new coach, Curt Onalfo, or our off-season acquisitions. And the team has yet to score a goal in the preseason. If we make the playoffs, it'll be a good year.
Which players should we look out for? Definitely a few. Our keeper, Troy Perkins, is back in MLS after two years in Norway and it will be interesting to see how much he's developed. He was one of the best in the league before he left and I really think he's going to be stellar now. Christian Castillo is our new left winger and I'm really curious to see how he does, he's the one off-season signing I'm excited about. Playing actual wing players in the midfield is not par for the course for DC, we've developed a habit of playing converted A-mids or strikers, so this is a great change of pace. Chris Pontius had a great rookie season playing in a ton of positions last year, hopefully this year he'll be settled as a striker and rack up the goals. He's currently in the USA training camp, potentially a star in the making for club and country. And as always, you have to pay attention to how Jaime Moreno will fare. He's the heart of the club and it seems that no matter how old he gets, no one can quite replace his creative role, so we'll have to see how he slots in this year.
And finally, can you sum up DCU in a Tweet of less than 140 characters? Nothing less than the flagship of American soccer, now and forever.